ON A MONSOON NIGHT IN 2005, Sunil Babu Pant was at home in Kathmandu, in the flat he shared with his parents. For the past two days, his phone had been ringing incessantly; doctors at a government hospital across town were calling about an unclaimed body. The deceased was a meti—a person born male but with feminine identity—who had died from AIDS complications three days earlier. The corpse was beginning to decompose and smell, but neither the meti’s family nor the doctors would touch it. Even within the medical establishment, AIDS was a highly stigmatised disease. Besides, the doctors had no idea how to find a temple that would cremate a meti. They turned to Pant, who was the director of the Blue Diamond Society (BDS), Nepal’s first organisation for sexual and gender minorities. The meti had been one of his volunteers.
Pant had waited to see if someone else would come forward, but now he decided to act. He set out cautiously. Kathmandu’s streets were crawling with security forces but almost entirely devoid of civilians: the country was embroiled in a civil war, and its capital was frequently under curfew as part of the ruling monarchy’s efforts to quash a nearly decade-long Maoist rebellion. Pant convinced a taxi driver to take him to the hospital with the headlights turned off, and instructed him to wait outside. When Pant emerged from the hospital, he was cradling the meti’s emaciated corpse in his arms. The taxi sped off without him. By then, two BDS staff members had arrived to help. They hired another cab, for ten times the usual rate, and crept toward the Pashupatinath temple complex—one of the holiest Hindu sites in the world.